Rich Mulholland on Why You Need to Stop Being Satisfied and Start Getting Hungry

Is it possible to stay passionate after decades in an industry? As it turns out, the answer is yes – as long as you're finding new ways to fuel your fire. As Rich Mulholland is discovering, sometimes that also means handing over the reigns of the business you started and nurtured for years to launch something new.
Rich Mulholland on Why You Need to Stop Being Satisfied and Start Getting Hungry
Image credit: Rich Mulholland
Entrepreneur Staff
Editor-in-Chief: Entrepreneur.com South Africa
13 min read

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Rich Mulholland
  • Company: TalkDrawer
  • What they do: Helping leaders to speak to their teams
  • Visit: www.talkdrawer.com; thesalesdepartment.co; msnglnk.com; 21tanks.com; humanwrit.es

In September 2018, Goalcast posted a two-minute edit of one of Rich Mulholland’s talks on its Facebook page. It’s called How To Not Live With Regret, and within 24 hours it had 820 000 views. Four months later that number had climbed to 15 million views and had been shared almost 70 000 times.

What’s particularly interesting about this talk is how personal it is. Rich is a globally-recognised speaker, and his focus has always been on topics that he’s passionate about, but not necessarily personal in nature.  This one was different. “I was really struggling when I did this talk,” he says. 

“I was heavier than I’d ever been. That morning, when I left to give the talk, I couldn’t find a shirt that fit. I had to go past the shops on the way and buy an XXL, even though I’d always been a medium. I was almost in tears by the time I arrived to give my presentation. 

“I was hating life and hating my business, and facing a big decision: Should I quit Missing Link or continue running a business that I’d started when I was 23 years old, and even though at the time I wanted to take over the world, years later it had developed into more of a hobby.”

The problem was that while Missing Link was a hobby for Rich, it was the livelihood of his team, and they no longer had the leadership or the room for growth that they deserved. 

“If I chose option B, would I be happy, or really live to regret it?”

The reality of Rich’s predicament is that he had changed and evolved as an entrepreneur over the past two decades, and he’d come to recognise that he could give more focus and passion to a new business. He just had to take the leap.

“At the beginning, when I was building Missing Link, I had to fight for everything. I couldn’t afford anything and I was filled with hunger. And then, after about ten years, that fight was gone. By then, my business was supporting a pretty decent lifestyle.

“So, I found it somewhere else. I found it in public speaking. The feeling I used to get as an entrepreneur walking into a meeting and selling something drove me. It was the biggest high. And then I started speaking, and I’d get off the stage and people would cheer, and that was an even bigger high.”

What Rich had to come to terms with was the fact that his speaking career and reputation were growing, but his business was stagnating. “I needed to figure out what I wanted and what success looked like for me.”

 

LEARNING TO WALK AWAY

Rich is the first to admit that he had a pretty good business that was also a great company. “Missing Link has an incredible team; it’s a business that the press is always writing about, and that appears in newspapers and on websites. There’s been a lot of hype around how innovative and different we are. On top of that, I lead a great life. My business gave me everything that my lifestyle required of it.”

But this had two very large consequences. First, Rich admits his focus was completely off, and the business was suffering as a result. Second, because he was having so much fun, he’d forgotten the fact that he was at the top of the pyramid. He was doing okay, his business was meeting his financial needs, but all the people working for him were in a state of less-than-okay. His satisfaction was getting in the way of their success and hunger for growth, because the business wasn’t growing, and so it couldn’t give them more.

Fast forward to the morning of Rich’s talk on regret.

“The talk encapsulated something I’d really been struggling with.  Every time we say no to something, we write a cheque that’s payable to regret. Eventually, you have to cash those cheques. Regret isn’t based on what you achieve, but what you tried. You won’t regret not building a large business as long as you gave it a shot. What most entrepreneurs will regret is not trying.”

Rich and Grant Steuart, one of the shareholders in Richard’s new venture, TalkDrawer, wrote the speech one week before he gave the talk. Presenting it and then receiving feedback for the next few weeks solidified the decision he needed to make, and three weeks later, without telling Don Packett, his business partner at Missing Link, Rich walked into the boardroom and told everyone he was stepping down and Don would be taking over.

“I expected some objections and to have to negotiate a bit, but everyone just nodded and said okay,” says Rich. “Even though I knew it was the right move, I ended up in a pity party for a few weeks, but then I realised I had to get over myself. I’d made the right decision for everyone — and they knew it too.”

At the end of that year, Missing Link’s general manager thanked Rich for giving Don the opportunity to lead the business. “Her thanks opened my eyes to something that a lot of business owners miss. You stay because you think you’re doing everyone a favour, but the reality is that I wasn’t committed to Missing Link anymore, and they were.

When I left, it created a vacuum that permeated the organisation, and suddenly everyone had room to grow. It’s a powerful force for growth and change.

“Don joined Missing Link 16 years ago. He’s very close to the business and once I got out of his way and let him run it, he started making changes that the business needed. It already has a completely different sales culture. The business has had both its best day ever and its best month ever under Don’s leadership.”

The move also gave Rich the freedom to explore his own potential. “A few years ago I was at an Entrepreneur’s Organisation Leadership Academy, and Warren Rustand said something that rocked me. He said that your success is only important when measured against your potential. It had a profound impact on me, but it’s also a tricky one. I don’t believe Elon Musk will ever be able to sit back and think, ‘right, I’ve fulfilled my potential.’ It’s a never-ending goal, and the posts keep shifting.

“So, I’ve reframed it for myself: Never let satisfaction get in the way of your potential, which is exactly what I was doing. Once I stopped being ‘satisfied’, I started focusing on my potential. I had started out wanting to change the world. I needed to find a way back to that.”

 

SAME MISSION, NEW SOLUTION

So, what needed to happen for Rich to make this change? There are two sides to this question: The business equation, and the personal one. In terms of the business, Rich reached a point where he was able to admit he was holding Missing Link back. But he also needed to figure out what he needed on a personal level.

Over the years, Rich has launched other businesses, written books and become a highly regarded speaker. Now he’s using all of that experience to build something that he can scale exponentially — because he’s laying the right foundations. He’s going back to a goal he had two decades ago but has yet to achieve. 

In many ways, TalkDrawer is a more modern, scalable version of the business Rich launched 21 years ago. It still seeks to solve the same underlying problems of how people communicate through presentations. The difference is that technology has evolved, and Rich has learnt a lot of valuable lessons around laying the right foundations for a scalable business.

He’s also had the fire to really make a difference re-ignited. “Every business I’ve started since launching Missing Link has been similar to Missing Link. It’s been like retelling a joke I already knew the punchline to. TalkDrawer is different for three key reasons. First, thanks to technology and lessons we’ve learnt, we’re able to plant exponential seeds. This is a highly scalable business.

Second, the team is incredible — Justin King is amazing at operationally running a business and Grant Steuart would be the Olympic gold medalist in presentation design if such a thing existed. The difference is that unlike Missing Link, this business needs me to drive it. It’s something that needs 100% of me, which is really exciting.”

The basic model is a library of on-demand, online presentations for leaders and managers. “There is a fundamental difference between writing a talk and presenting a talk. Most speakers I know start off presenting other people’s material in their own way.

Business leaders and managers do this as well — they read a book and they want to share the lessons they’ve learnt, or they’re having a problem with culture, or pricing, or customer service within their business and they want to research a talk that addresses those problems. At Missing Link, we were often approached to help write these talks, and we found that we were using the same resources and ideas multiple times.”

Another example: Large organisations that broadcast the CEO’s message across hundreds of offices, thanks to technology. “Instead, shouldn’t the local managers and leaders be addressing their teams? Shouldn’t one message be crafted that each leader can then personally deliver? TalkDrawer assists with that too.”

The idea started taking shape a few years ago when Rich read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The book had a profound impact on him and he bought it for every staff member at Missing Link. A year later he discovered that no-one had read it. “It wasn’t enough to give them the book; I needed to share the lessons.”

Fast-forward to his annual Snowcon retreat with his business partner, Don. That year, in the train getting to the retreat where they would address any pressing business concerns or new ideas, they had already mapped out the basic premise of TalkDrawer.

In a nutshell, they would approach authors of new (and existing) business books to create presentations that could be accessed off the platform, giving business leaders the opportunity to use ready-made presentations imparting the lessons they want to share with their organisations, or at conferences.

Through Missing Link and Rich and his team’s experience, TalkDrawer already has a lexicon of presentations available covering key business topics, and these will grow as business authors, experts and presentation firms from around the world come on board. Critical to TalkDrawer’s potential to scale is the fact that they don’t need to create all the material themselves.

The most important element of TalkDrawer however is the feedback loop. “Previously, the impact of a talk or message has been gauged on how loudly the audience cheer. In a business context, this is a useless metric. What organisations need to be able to track is how much the audience has changed based on the talk. The ultimate outcome needs to be programmatic change. 

“How many initiatives are launched at annual company conferences, and that’s it? We want to solve this problem by creating a keynote presentation that is then supported by, for example, 26 biweekly programmatic presentations that keep driving the message home, and then key KPIs need to be measured and tracked.”

 

FINDING YOUR FUEL

After 21 years, Rich is not only invigorated, he’s on a mission — but it took some mindset shifts. First, he needed to step away from his ego. “It’s an interesting thing; as you learn more, build a bigger business, brand and reputation, you start wanting to be the expert in all things. I needed to get over myself — I’m the expert in presentations. I needed to admit that so that I could own this space.”

To actively own the presentations space and double down on it, Rich recently released his latest book, Boredom Slayer — a book on presentations. The journey has revealed something incredible for him, and that’s how passionate he still is about presenting, two decades after launching his first business in this space.

“We need to change the world’s relationship with presentations. Step one is helping leaders get their messages across in ways that will influence real change within their organisations. Step two, and this is the bigger play, is to fundamentally change the way public speaking is taught in schools. We want to separate writing presentations and delivering them.

These are essentially two different disciplines, and it starts with how well you write a presentation — you write a good speech long before you deliver one.”  By pre-writing speeches for leaders, they can focus on perfecting the art of delivery, building up confidence. Learning the narrative structure of presentations can follow later.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, how well you communicate your ideas is the foundation of success. From science to politics, business strategy to human relations — if you can communicate your vision and knowledge, people will believe in you and support you. It’s a critical skill.”

Rich believes these skills should be taught at a primary school level and is working towards a solution that will help make that happen.

TalkDrawer was recently accepted to attend Y Combinator’s Start-up School, a ten-week programme that ignited a flame in Rich. “We have something incredible here; we have the opportunity to massively impact this space on a global scale.”

As it turns out, Rich just needed to stop being satisfied, and start getting hungry again. Watch this space. 
 

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